culture, in anthropology, the integrated system of socially acquired values, beliefs, and rules of conduct which delimit the range of accepted behaviors in any given society. Cultural differences distinguish societies from one another. Archaeology, a branch of the broader field of anthropology, studies material culture, the remains of extinct human cultures (e.g., pottery, weaponry) in order to decipher something of the way people lived. Such analysis is particularly useful where no written records exist. One of the first anthropological definitions of the term was given by Sir Edward Burnett Tylor in the late 19th cent. By 1952, Alfred Kroeber and Clyde Kluckhohn had cataloged over 100 different definitions of the word.

The Nature of Culture

Culture is based on the uniquely human capacity to classify experiences, encode such classifications symbolically, and teach such abstractions to others. It is usually acquired through enculturation, the process through which an older generation induces and compels a younger generation to reproduce the established lifestyle; consequently, culture is embedded in a person's way of life. Culture is difficult to quantify, because it frequently exists at an unconscious level, or at least tends to be so pervasive that it escapes everyday thought. This is one reason that anthropologists tend to be skeptical of theorists who attempt to study their own culture. Anthropologists employ fieldwork and comparative, or cross-cultural, methods to study various cultures. Ethnographies may be produced from intensive study of another culture, usually involving protracted periods of living among a group. Ethnographic fieldwork generally involves the investigator assuming the role of participant-observer: gathering data by conversing and interacting with people in a natural manner and by observing people's behavior unobstrusively. Ethnologies use specialized monographs in order to draw comparisons among various cultures.

Theories of Culture

Investigations have arisen from belief in many different theories of culture and have often given voice to new theoretical bases for approaching the elusive term. Many early anthropologists conceived of culture as a collection of traits and studied the diffusion, or spread, of these traits from one society to another. Critics of diffusionism, however, pointed out that the theory failed to explain why certain traits spread and others do not. Cultural evolution theory holds that traits have a certain meaning in the context of evolutionary stages, and they look for relationships between material culture and social institutions and beliefs. These theorists classify cultures according to their relative degree of social complexity and employ several economic distinctions (foraging, hunting, farming, and industrial societies) or political distinctions (autonomous villages, chiefdoms, and states). Critics of this theory argue that the use of evolution as an explanatory metaphor is flawed, because it tends to assume a certain direction of development, with an implicit apex at modern, industrial society. Ecological approaches explain the different ways that people live around the world not in terms of their degree of evolution but rather as distinct adaptations to the variety of environments in which they live. They also demonstrate how ecological factors may lead to cultural change, such as the development of technological means to harness the environment. Structural-functionalists posit society as an integration of institutions (such as family and government), defining culture as a system of normative beliefs that reinforces social institutions. Some criticize this view, which suggests that societies are naturally stable (see functionalism). Historical-particularists look upon each culture as a unique result of its own historical processes. Symbolic anthropology looks at how people's mental constructs guide their lives. Structuralists analyze the relationships among cultural constructs of different societies, deriving universal mental patterns and processes from the abstract models of these relationships. They theorize that such patterns exist independent of, and often at odds with, practical behavior. Many theories of culture have been criticized for assuming, intentionally or otherwise, that all people in any one society experience their culture in the same way. Today, many anthropologists view social order as a fragile accomplishment that various members of a society work at explaining, enforcing, exploiting, or resisting. They have turned away from the notion of elusive "laws" of culture that often characterizes cross-cultural analyses to the study of the concrete historical, political, and economic forces that structure the relations among cultures. Important theorists on culture have included Franz Boas, Emile Durkheim, Ruth Benedict, and Clifford Geertz.


See studies by G. W. Stocking, Jr. (1968), R. Wagner (1981), M. S. Archer (1988), A. Hallowell (1988), and R. Rosaldo (1989).

Biological research method in which tissue fragments (a cell, a population of cells, or all or part of an organ) are sustained in an artificial environment for examination and manipulation of cell behaviour. It has been used to study normal and abnormal cell structure; biochemical, genetic, and reproductive activity; metabolism, functions, and aging and healing processes; and reactions to physical, chemical, and biological agents (e.g., drugs, viruses). A tiny sample of the tissue is spread on or in a culture medium of biological (e.g., blood serum or tissue extract), synthetic, or mixed origin having the appropriate nutrients, temperature, and pH for the cells being incubated. The results are observed with a microscope, sometimes after treatment (e.g., staining) to highlight particular features. Some viruses also grow in tissue cultures. Work with tissue cultures has helped identify infections, enzyme deficiencies, and chromosomal abnormalities; classify brain tumours; and formulate and test drugs and vaccines.

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In microbiology, laboratory culture containing a single species of organism. A pure culture is usually derived from a mixed culture (containing many species) by methods that separate the individual cells so that, when they multiply, each will form an individually distinct colony, which may then be used to establish new cultures with the assurance that only one type of organism will be present. Pure cultures may be more easily isolated if the growth medium of the original mixed culture favours the growth of one organism to the exclusion of others.

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also called foraging culture

Any human culture or society that depends on a combination of hunting, fishing, and gathering wild foods for subsistence. Until circa 11,000–12,000 years ago, all peoples were foragers. Many foraging peoples continued to practice their traditional way of life into the 20th century; by mid-century all such peoples had developed extensive contacts with settled groups. In traditional hunting and gathering societies, social groups were small, usually made up of either individual family units or a number of related families collected together in a band. Typically women and children collected relatively stationary foods such as plants, eggs, shellfish, and insects, while men hunted large game. The diet was well-balanced and ample, and food was shared. Hunting and gathering societies had considerable free time to spend on social and religious activities.

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or fish farming or mariculture

Rearing of fish, shellfish, and some aquatic plants to supplement the natural supply. Fish are reared in controlled conditions worldwide. Though most aquaculture supplies the commercial food market, many governmental agencies engage in it to stock lakes and rivers for sport fishing. It also supplies goldfish and other decorative fish for home aquariums and bait fish for sport and commercial fishing. Carp, trout, catfish, tilapia, scallops, mussels, lobsters, and oysters are well-known species raised through aquaculture.

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Contact between peoples with different cultures, usually leading to change in one or both systems. Forms of culture contact traditionally include acculturation, assimilation, and amalgamation. Acculturation is the process of change in material culture, traditional practices, and beliefs that occurs when one group interferes in the cultural system of another, directly or indirectly challenging the latter to adapt to the ways of the former. Such change has characterized most political conquests and expansions over the centuries. Assimilation is the process whereby individuals or groups of differing ethnicity are absorbed into the dominant culture of a society—though not always completely. In the U.S. millions of European immigrants became assimilated within two or three generations; factors included the upheaval of overseas relocation, the influences of the public school system, and other forces in American life. Amalgamation (or hybridization) occurs when a society becomes ethnically mixed in a way that represents a synthesis rather than the elimination or absorption of one group by another. In Mexico, for example, Spanish and Indian cultures became increasingly amalgamated over centuries of contact.

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Early Iron Age culture in Italy, named after the village where the first site was found in 1853. It appeared in the 10th or 9th century BC as a branch of the Urnfield cultures. Its dead were cremated and the ashes put in a decorated pottery two-story urn covered with a bowl or a helmet-shaped lid, or in a so-called hut urn, a terra-cotta vessel. Expert metalworkers, the Villanovans controlled Tuscany's copper and iron mines. In the later 8th century BC their art and burials were influenced by Greece. Their culture began to fade in the 7th century.

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formerly Mound Builders

Most notable ancient Indian culture of east-central North America. It flourished circa 200 BCAD 500, chiefly in the Illinois and Ohio river valleys. (The name derives from a U.S. farm where the first site was explored.) The Hopewell Indians built earthen mounds for enclosure, burial, religious rites, and defense. Hopewell villages lay along rivers and streams. The inhabitants raised corn and possibly beans and squash but still relied upon hunting and gathering. They produced pottery and metalwork. Trade routes were evidently well developed. After AD 400 the distinctive features of the Hopewell culture gradually disappeared. Seealso Woodland culture.

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National preserve, northwestern New Mexico, U.S. Established as a national monument in 1907, it was redesignated and renamed in 1980. Occupying 53 sq mi (137 sq km), it contains 13 major pre-Columbian ruins and more than 300 smaller archaeological sites representing Pueblo cultures. Pueblo Bonito, built in the 10th century, is the largest Pueblo excavated site; it contained some 800 rooms.

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also called Anasazi

The Cliff Palace, which has 150 rooms, 23 kivas, and several towers, at Mesa Verde National Park in elipsis

North American Indian civilization that developed from circa AD 100 to 1600, centring on the area where the present-day boundaries of the U.S. states of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and Utah intersect. Ancestral Pueblo is the term most commonly used to refer to the ancestors of contemporary Pueblo Indian peoples. Anasazi is the Navajo word for “Ancient Enemy”; the Hopi prefer the term Hisatsinom, meaning “Ancient People.” Ancestral Pueblo civilization is customarily divided into several periods: Late Basketmaker II (AD 100–500), Basketmaker III (500–750), Pueblo I (750–950), Pueblo II (950–1150), Pueblo III (1150–1300), and Pueblo IV (1300–1600). Evidence for a postulated Basketmaker I stage has not been found. As among present-day Pueblo peoples, religion in the Ancestral Pueblo culture was highly developed and centred on rites partly conducted in underground circular chambers called kivas. The best-known Ancestral Pueblo ruins are the cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde (Colo.) and Chaco Canyon (N.M.).

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A crossroads (the word rarely appears in singular) is a road junction, where two or more roads meet (there are three or more arms). Crossroads is also an alternate name for a hamlet located at such a junction. The term is often used metaphorically, as an abstraction of places or occasions where people meet.

In British English it is specifically defined as being where two roads cross each other (there are exactly 4 arms). Unlike the terms road intersection and road junction, crossroads is used in a more figurative or poetic sense (similar to fork in the road).


Another interpretation of the crossroad hinted at by some blues songs is that point at which a particular road is taken in life - similar to Robert Frost's "road not taken".

Originally the blues "Crossroads" was a literal right-angle crossing of two railroads - "where the Southern cross the Dog" - in Moorhead, Mississippi. The "Southern" was a line of the Southern Railway, sold to the Columbus and Greenville Railway in 1920, and the "Dog" was the "Yellow Dog", officially the Yazoo Delta Railroad, part of the Illinois Central Railroad system after 1897. This place is mentioned in a number of blues, including the recorded works of W. C. Handy and Bessie Smith.


In the folk magic of many cultures, the crossroads is a location "between the worlds" and, as such, a site where supernatural spirits can be contacted and paranormal events can take place. Symbolically, it can mean a locality where two realms touch and therefore represents liminality, a place literally "neither here nor there".

This is particularly pronounced in conjure, rootwork, and hoodoo, a form of African American magical spirituality. In conjure practice, it is said that in order to acquire facility at various manual and body skills, such as playing a musical instrument, throwing dice, or dancing, one may attend upon a crossroads a certain number of times, either at midnight or just before dawn,and one will meet a "black man," whom some call the Devil, who will bestow upon one the desired skills. Evidence of this practice can be found in 20th century blues songs, such as Sold It to the Devil by Black Spider Dumpling (John D. Twitty). Although many modern listeners believe that the premier song about soul-selling at a crossroads is Crossroads Blues by Robert Johnson, the song may be a description of standing at a cross roads and trying to "flag a ride" or hitch-hike; the sense of foreboding coming from the singer's apprehension of finding himself, a young black man in the 1920s deep south, alone after dark and at the mercy of passing motorists. Others believe Robert Johnson sang this song in regards to the deal that was made with Legba in which Johnson exchanged his soul for his extraordinary guitar skills that seemed to appear suddenly. It should be noted, however that the idea of selling your soul for instrumental skills pre-dates the American South as several virtuoso classical musicians such as Paganini had stories told about selling their soul for music prowess (and that story may reference back to medieval troubadour doing something similar). The selling your soul for guitar power story has become a staple in both rock and metal guitarists.

In the Vodou tradition, Papa Legba is the lwa of crossroads.

Crossroads are very important both in Brazilian mythology (related to the headless mule, the devil, the Besta Fera and the Brazilian version of the werewolf) and religions (as the favourite place for the manifestation of "left-hand" entities such as Exus and where to place offerings to the Orishas).

There is also the now illegal tradition within England of burying criminals (particularly suicides) at crossroads. This may have been due to the crossroads marking the boundaries of the settlement coupled with a desire to bury those outside of the law outside the settlement, or that the many roads would confuse the dead. (See also Burial)

Symbolically, the crossroads can be used as a metaphor for the afterlife.

In Lore

Some professors refer to the crossroads as a turning point with an unpredictable outcome. In ancient literature some scripts have references to other dimensional worlds with their own crossroads. In these texts the crossroads seem to have four different endings, a golden age, nothing changed, apocalypse, and a bad event that varies with every different world.


In some Asian cultures further interpretations and traditions about what crossroads are diverge from the explanations given above.

See also

External links

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